Just passing through.

Hello Y’all.  I’m home in the flat in Bethlehem.  Arnie’s Sabeel Witness Visit ended today and he had invited me to join him for coffee in Jerusalem before he headed for the airport, so I grabbed the essentials and headed through the checkpoint one more time.  Today is Friday, the Islamic holy day of the week.  The checkpoint was full of women in beautiful hijabs and older Arabic men on their way to worship at Al Aqsa Mosque. (Younger men are not permitted to go to pray at the mosque.)  It was very busy and I found myself to be nearly the only international in the line of about 500 Arabic-speaking people waiting their turn to go through the turnstyle. I was able to strike up some very tentative conversations with the women, who know about as much English as I know Arabic, which is, believe me, not much.  For instance, one woman was fingering her “99 Beautiful Names of Allah” beads so I took out my Orthodox prayer beads on which one can pray the Holy Name of Jesus (Issah, in Arabic, and then you say “Peace be upon Him”). I explained the use of these beads, but one man in the crowd, seeing them, assumed they were remembrances of my many children (there are 33 beads.) When I laughed, I ws told that some Arabic women do, in fact, have 33 children. (! ouch.)

Although the usual crowd behavior was taking place, with people getting impatient during the 50-minute wait, there was also courtesy and kindness.  I was motioned to go ahead of others even though I politely refused.  An older woman who needed to sit down (on the floor, there being no other niceties) was given space to do so.  A worried young mother with a child who were on the way to the hospital were given preference in line. And despite the unconscionable act of our Congress in its suppression of the Goldstone Report this week, I was not shown any disrespect, nor have I ever been disrespected or made to feel threatened or unwanted here.  On the contrary, the Palestinian people have gone out of their way to welcome me and make me feel at home.

On the bus into Jerusalem, a well-dressed man in a suit, carrying his Islamic prayer beads, sat beside me.  When he learned that I was living in Bethlehem and volunteering at Dar Annadwa, he pressed a gift of handmade embroidery on me and would not accept my repeated, “Lah, shukrun, you can give it to your sister!”   That’s been typical here.  Everyone wants you to “come to my house and drink something.”

Jerusalem has pizza.  So does Bethlehem of course, but I have lost track of the location of that restaurant so I was excited to stumble upon pizza today.  There was ice cream as well, but people don’t usually have desserts here and I’ve gotten a bit out of the habit and actually forgot to get it.

In the grocery store it’s startling to find the eggs stacked unprotected on the floor, unrefrigerated.  In one crowded grocery I nearly stepped into the whole lot.  The local mom-and-pop corner store on Star Street explained to me that they get about 100 eggs fresh every 2 days, so they feel no need to refrigerate them.  So far I haven’t had the nerve to buy any.  Next door, a shop is open sporadically in which a woman named Nula makes exquisite embroidery. Today it was wide open but no one was manning the shop or watching the goods. There was an expectation of trust in this real neighborhood where people watch out for each other. When I said I wanted to look, the proprietor raised her voice and yelled up to the next level that she had a customer, and she replied that she was giving her daughter a shower.  It was really reminiscent of life in American neighborhoods decades ago, if any of you are old enough to remember.  I decided to try to come back on Monday.

In Jerusalem I strolled through the suk, which is the bazaar.  It’s a colorful and chaotic place, where making eye contact with a merchant means you will be drinking tea or perhaps even eating a sandwich in his shop…where he hopes you will buy something.  I was mesmerized by the spice shop, where it is the custom for the owner to make marvelous creations out of the mounds of spices.  There was a mountain of zaatar, a spice mix used with olive oil for dipping bread, that was as much a work of art as anything I’ve ever seen, although it is certainly an ephemeral creation. I deeply regret that my computer connection is too slow tonight to upload this picture. A local woman warned me to watch my purse; she has seen many stolen.  Mine is slashproof but I was glad for the advice; I soon after noticed a boy following me more closely than might have been appropriate, his eye on me as I naively looked around taking pictures.  It’s the sort of thing world travelers have to think about in busy and crowded markets all over the world, of course.

A visit to Holy Sepulcher Church (Greeks call it Church of the Resurrection) was a special time, as was a visit with Rev. Mark Holman, pastor of Redeemer Lutheran Church in Jerusalem, who offered me wise words and advised me how to find Damascus gate to catch the bus home.  All in all a great day.  My time here is rapidly closing.  I teach tomorrow and Monday and then it’s off to the airport for me as well.  It occurs to me that for all the work I’ve done here I am just passing through.  For some there is a long term missional committment.  For others there is a 3 month peace and justice role, as with the Ecumenical Accompaniers.  For many of my friends here, this is their home, fraught with difficulty.  I’m ready to come home but I’ve already been asked about “when I come back” and what I will do then.  It’s food for thought.


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